Hamilton Street Railway buses at King and MacNab in late September 2017. Credit: Joey Coleman / The Public Record

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party government announced a form of Voluntary Student Unionism last Thursday, unveiling significant changes to student fee regulations.

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, states that all of Ontario’s publicly funded colleges and universities must make all but “essential” student fees voluntary, with easy online opt-outs for students not wishing to pay those fees.

Left unknown is if the McMaster University and Mohawk College mandatory fee for the local transit Hamilton Street Railway universal bus pass will be considered “essential” by the provincial regulations, made voluntary, or exempted from the framework in some way.

The announcement states that “walk home” programs are deemed essential safety services, and student levies for these programs must continue. Will universities be able to claim U-Pass’ are a measure to ensure students can get home safely?

U-Pass Levies

Presently, all full-time undergraduates at McMaster, and all full-time students at Mohawk College must pay $206.16 in the 2019/20 academic year towards the HSR universal student pass – the fee is charged regardless of if a student uses local transit.

McMaster commuter students living in Mississauga pay for HSR passes, meaning if the province makes the HSR fee voluntary, opting-out will attract large portions of each institution’s student body.

McMaster full-time on-campus graduate students will pay $252.38 for their 2019/20 pass.

[Redeemer University College students pay $171.98 for their UPass. Redeemer is not publicly funded, and the contract between Redeemer and the City of Hamilton is not affected by any provincial regulation changes]

Public UPasses Are 16.7% of HSR’s Total Revenue

The HSR’s 2018 revenue forecast was $42.4-million, of which $7.1-million was from McMaster and Mohawk U-Passes, 16.7% of the HSR’s overall revenue.

ADULT CASH                            $   6,189,343.00
ADULT TICKET                        $  17,120,477.00
STUDENT TICKET                  $    2,740,243.00
ADULT PASS                             $   5,133,539.00
STUDENT PASS                       $   2,850,693.00
DAY PASS                                  $         68,889.00
SENIOR PASS                          $        927,170.00
McMASTER MSU UPASS      $     4,131,632.00
McMASTER GSA UPASS       $        767,298.00
MOHAWK UPASS                   $    2,203,063.00
REDEEMER UPASS               $        105,248.00

If Queen’s Park ends mandatory UPasses, the HSR will need to determine if it will again offer a term discount pass for Mohawk and McMaster students, or simply expect them to pay for monthly adult passes.

[Prior to the 1995 implementation of the McMaster U-Pass, the HSR offered a discounted four month post-secondary pass].

In the immediate short-term, HSR management will need to respond to a loss of over $7-million in revenue.

Asked if HSR management will ask Council to increase its budget to replace the revenue, which translates into an approximate 0.8% tax levy increase, or look at cutting service.

“We are working through this announcement to better understand what the implications might be,” wrote HSR Communications Officer Amanda Kinnard in response to The Public Record’s questions on how the HSR will manage a potential loss of revenue.

In a related read, here’s the Ottawa Citizen’s coverage of the U-Pass issue in Ottawa: Letting students opt out of transit fee could jeopardize u-pass program

Production Details
v. 1.0.2
Last edited: January 27, 2019
Author: Joey Coleman
Edit Record
v. 1.0.0 original version
v. 1.0.1 addition of production details box.
v. 1.0.2 change of word in paragraph 6, from "campuses student body" to "institution's" to accurately capture some students paying for UPasses do not attend main campuses.